Discorsi: The Other Strategy Guide Edit
Part 3: Exploring Venice Edit
Continued from Part 2 -- Windmill Tavern and Southern Shore
Finally, I am in Venice. This is the good news. I am also in a dark and dank prison cell. This is the bad news. And I haven't seen a sign of Scarlett. This is the worse news.
How I got here is quickly told, although the events portend even more serious trouble. The night of the Assassin’s attack on the Windmill Tavern, I kept vigil with Yngvar, because the thought of staying in the tavern was unbearable to me. Also, Hengfisk was gone with Scarlett, and I waited in vain for his return, with my worry increasing hour by hour. Shortly after sunrise, something moved along the bridge in our direction. To my surprise, it turned out to be a work crew and several oxen, who almost immediately went to work clearing the rockslide. I have no idea what the Innkeeper pulled to get such a fast response, but he seemed to have good contacts in the city. Very good contacts.
In retrospect, Scarlett should have heeded our advice and waited. She would have saved herself the trouble of dealing with the Assassin’s lair. I admit readily, though, that we could not have known this in advance. In any case, by early afternoon, and after several parts of the ancient ruins crashed at the bottom of the precipice with the sound of a major earthquake, the road was passable again, and I took my leave from Yngvar to continue my journey.
The first serious sign of trouble became evident when I reached my trader’s booth in the Outer City, which is located directly west of the stairs that descend from the bridge. The stall was partly burned down, and the contents of my chests looted. Fortunately, when I left, I stashed away the most valuable parts of my merchandise, and the loss was bearable for me. But trouble just kept coming. I was inspecting the damage when I heard a voice behind me,
“Yes, it’s him. Don’t let him get away!”
Not knowing who this was referring to, I looked up and saw that four guards were surrounding me, spears pointed at me. Two more appeared and forced my hands behind my back, then one guard took my sword. The greedy look in his eyes told me that I would not see that weapon again. So they manhandled me into the garrison and the cell where I am stuck at this moment despite my protests:
“I demand to see the judge. I didn’t do anything”
Raucous laughter, and one guard sneered, “you’ll see him – when they are going to hang you.”
Thus I was stuck, my only company a brutish guard, a man of very few words and probably fewer thoughts -- a guard who would not answer any question nor even accept a bribe. I had no sense of the passing of time. I slept on the hard cot, but for how long I could not say. Eventually, there was a commotion, and a guard entered with another prisoner, who was tossed roughly into the cell next to mine. It took my new neighbor considerable time before he realized that he was not alone. Perhaps his eyes had to adjust to the gloom, or perhaps he was just now beginning to take in his surroundings, but he whispered,
“I know you. You are Crowe, right?”
“Crowe? No – why?”
“The Judge posted a proclamation that you are wanted, even included a drawing of your face.”
The magnitude of the mistake dawned on me. “Crowe? So what am I wanted for?"
“Pretty much everything, waylaying, robbery, stealing, murder, attacking guards… you name it.”
"You are not mistaking me for the boss of the Rogues, do you?”
“No clue what you are talking about. But you are the man on that drawing.”
“This is a mistake. I have people in the city who can vouch for me. Any idea how I can get a message out?”
There was nothing we could do at this point. He seemed to be a gullible citizen who lent money to a rogue and didn’t get it back, naturally. So he landed in the debtor’s cell, naturally. And we were both stuck.
Much later, there was another commotion. Another prisoner? The guard barked a gruff “How can I help ya.”, and there appeared –
“What! You… here? What happened?”
“I could ask you the same question, but you are alive, at least. Say, can you get word to Aeris that they jailed me in mistake? Somebody thinks I am Crowe, a criminal who’d face the gallows.”
“Who is Aeris?”
“You need to get to the Inner City. You’ll find her at the Guildhouse.”
“Listen – Can you help me, too?”, interjected the other prisoner, “This was a set-up. I wasn't able to pay my taxes, but I had the money. I lent it to a man named Rat, and he won't give it back to me. And I can’t get it myself when I am stuck here.”
Scarlett looked at me, puzzled. I could see that she didn’t know what to say.
“Scarlett, it might be a good idea if you did help. Remember how we discussed your experience? This is not all that you need. If you want to succeed, you need to get known, get people talking about you. Some people don’t deal with strangers – but they would, if you had a reputation. Freeing an innocent prisoner makes people talk and recognize you. In fact, any form of help increases your reputation.”
Scarlett left with a short “See you later”.
And later it was, just that I still don’t know how much later. When she returned, she directly addressed my companion in misery:
“I have got your money.”
It did not take long, and he was free. For me, it was different, and Scarlett had more bad news:
“I found Aeris, by accident. They locked the Inner City Gate, and Aeris was stuck. I told her about you, and she went into action, but the Inner City is off-limits. If we find that old Nightwatch guy, he may have a key. There are some strange Persians, and they seem to control the Inner City.”
I could not hold back my curiosity, “So what happened to you after you left for the Water Gateway?”
“That! It was bad, worse than you could have imagined, even though you warned me: I really had to slay that snake.”
“The poison snake form the dying warrior? Really?”
“Let me tell you what happened. Yes, the aqueduct was swarming with Assassins. But as you guessed, I found Edmundo, right at the beginning, in fact. And he helped me a lot – He showed me how to summon ravens and make them attack the enemy. I can now get a flock of Ravens into a real frenzy, they even attack grippers. Edmundo said I had a special relationship with ravens, therefore I was particularly good at this skill.
“I cleared out the Water Gateway. It is safe now. They also had some local guard in there, with yellow armor and a war hammer. Usually, they were patrolling the catacombs in pairs: The hammer guard and a Dervish master – the latter to keep you busy with the quick blade, and the former to deliver the death blow with his slow hammer. Again, the ravens were an incredible help, they allowed me to soften up the enemy from a good distance, so it was easier to finish them off with the sword.
“What I didn’t know is how exhausting it is to cast a spell that whips the birds into a killing frenzy. But then again, there were beds and bunks to get some rest, in Edmundo’s cell, near the kitchen, and in a back room – a very interesting room, in fact. There were stones to push in sequence, much like in the Windmill Tavern. Behind an iron gate were lots of valuables, probably what the Assassins stole from their victims. I also found a wrench that was helpful. Clever, clever. He hid the combination in a nonsense recipe, but the recipe was so dumb that its purpose was obvious.
“The cook begged for his life. Probably the reason they made him the cook. For sparing his life, he gave me a special dagger, something to open the door to the water tower. In the end, I had two routes. With the dagger, I was able to avoid the Gripper caves, and with my Twilight passage – remember that I told you about it? – I could enter a secret room that went past a closed gate. Or I could lift the gate with the wrench. I explored both, because I really didn’t know what to expect.”
I interrupted her at this point: “Did you find any valuables, money?”
“Yes, there was a lot. If I sell those goods, I should be able to cash in a considerable sum. Why?”
“There may be a few items that you’ll probably want to buy, so I am glad you have some money. But first, continue.”
“I also went into the Gripper caves. Maybe this was a bad idea. I got seriously hurt two times, and I mean, seriously. Those things are strong and can hurt you plenty. I got lucky, though. In the end, my experience has grown, and my strength, too. Maybe this just gave me the advantage when I had to confront the snake.”
“Right – the snake, so what about it?”, I asked.
“Well, it was the Mistress all right, or at least her spirit form. They got Leon – again. He seems to be following me for some reason, and he ran into the trap set for me. I helped him get away, but then they locked me in. Then the Mistress appeared. Yes, she is quite a coward underneath her cold shell. They had repairs going on in the tower, and there was a wood scaffold for the workers. She stayed up there all the time and just cast spells. I couldn’t reach her and had to dodge the spells. This is, until I remembered what you said about the scaffold. When I smashed the supports with my hammer, I finally brought her down so I could face her eye to eye. At that point, it was over for her pretty quickly. Without her magic, she is just another Assassin. Or was, I should say.
“But then I experienced what Yngvar told me about his warrior. When she died, she pulled me with her into the Twilight World, driven by pure hatred and desire for revenge. I was lucky that I knew where I was, and I could face her with the Moonblade. And, yes, her spirit is a snake. With five arms that she used like whips. I got caught once, and it really hurt me. But she did not have much strength in those tentacles, and once she exhausted herself, I could hack them off with the Moonblade.
“Once she lost all five arms, she was stuck in one place and could only spew her poison. I had to be fast to get underneath and wear her down with the Moonblade until she was eventually finished. Only then I was free to return to this world, just like returning from the Passage. Back in this world, I found keys on her body, and some valuables. An interesting ring with a red gem.
“The rest of the events is not much. I explored the city and went into the Garrison tower by accident. This is when I found you.”
“I am glad. I was at a loss how to get word out. Now all we can do is ...”
The door crashed open. A woman’s voice, filled with pure fury: “ You will release him at once. Or I shall cut off your fingers one by one and boil them in scalding water. And let the ravens hack out your eyes and the rats gnaw off your toes. And cut off your head and hang it from the tower for all to see.”
Aeris… unmistakably. She was accompanied by two Gondoliers. I thought she was addressing the gruff guard, but no, there was the Judge himself. Aeris sure pulled some weight around here. “Look at him. This is not Crowe, is it!”
The judge seemed to realize his mistake, too. “No… no, he isn’t. A misunderstanding, you know? I have no idea how his picture came on the posters.” He waved to the guard, who stepped forward and opened my cell door.
I thanked Aeris, but she cut me off: “I need to get back to the gate. You know about the Persian occupation force?” – I shook my head – “They took over the Inner City and locked it down. I can’t get back to the Guild house, and I need to find a way to get past the gate.”
I had an idea… “I think I have an idea. Scarlett, we talked about reputation. I think to earn people’s trust you should join one of the Guilds, too. The Net of the Mask is likely the best choice for you, and I am sure Aeris will initiate you, right, Aeris?”
But she was already rushing to the door. “Meet me at the gate, and we’ll talk. Maybe you can help me get back into the Inner City. Oh how they’ll regret it…” Her voice faded, and she was gone. We, too, started down the stairs and continued talking. Of course, Scarlett was awed and a bit lost in this huge city, so I tried to help her get oriented.
“There are two things you should do, and soon. Help Aeris with the city gate and go see Nox. If anybody knows where to find that book you mentioned, it’s him. Also, talk to people, offer help if you can. It adds to your experience and reputation. Ranking officials usually have work for volunteers. The Judge, for sure, perhaps the head of the guard. Even random citizens may have problems they can’t solve alone, so don’t hesitate to start a chat if they look idle.”
By this time, we reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the Trading Center. The sun was setting and cast dramatic rays over the silhouette of the northwest row of houses. For the first time in several days I had a feeling of the time of day again.
“Why is it,” Scarlett remarked, “that there are no traders in the trading center, while all trading seems to take place out there at the Marketplace? Why is this called Trading Center?”
She pointed to the forbidding round building in the center, “and what’s in there, by the way?”
“That? It’s called the Amphitheater, some ancient ruins, and only a few traders use it. However, there is the Trade Center Administrator in there – maybe you should talk to him too?”
Scarlett took the cue and walked over to somebody who appeared to be another trader. I saw them talking, and I was torn between waiting and going back to my burned-down stand to take inventory. After a short while, the trader spoke a few words to the guard, who removed the chains to the Amphitheater and waved them in. This decided it for me, and I crossed the bridge back to the Marketplace.
At my stand, I kicked around a few scorched crates, but there was nothing left for me to salvage. I was behind the counter when I heard running footsteps. Since I did not have a sword, I ducked under the counter to hide and watch. Two Rogues appeared and stopped right in front of my stand. They were engaged in an animated, but whispered conversation, and I could not make out the words. Since they pointed in my direction, I got the impression that they were discussing the burnt-down stand – or me.
This went on for a short while, and I did not dare move. Suddenly, they must have heard something, because they turned toward the bridge and drew their weapons – too slow. A flash of gleaming steel, a few blows and parries, and both Rogues went down.
“Small town”, Scarlett remarked dryly as I looked up from behind the counter.
“Yes, this was my place, but… I wonder if the Rogues had something to do with it. By the way, how did you deal with those so decisively? They are a good deal tougher than the Assassins.”
She held up her blade. It had a brilliant white gleam in the moonlight. A real, ancient Chantori, forged by warriors from an old Eastern empire. "Bought it from the Trade Center Administrator. He deals in weapons, and he convinced me that this one would really fit me and improve my fighting style. The price was outrageous, I am almost broke now, but" – she pointed the the Rogues at her feet and shrugged – "looks like he was right.
"Oh, you still don’t have a sword, right?", she continued, “want to take one from these?”, indicating a Rogue. She bent down to examine one and pocketed some belongings, then handed me a short sword. Not my favorite, but I appreciated it none the less. And just in time, because two more Rogues appeared, walking in our direction. Scarlett sprang into action and, before I could move to assist her, did them in with a single dance of chained strikes.
“I should do this all night. How could I ever collect experience that easily. I talked to the Guard Captain, and he wants me to clean out the Rogue Quarters. But I think I’d rather wait until I got some more of them off the streets – for experience, of course. Say, who can teach me more advanced fighting skills?”
“Oh, and one more question, I heard about the catacombs, full of treasure, so people say. Should I explore those first, or try the Inner City?”
“You ask me? I definitely advise you to open the Inner City first. There are two traders. Madame Dunequerque has a shop where you can get some good war axes. You might need them against the Grippers. And there is San with her magical items. I heard that she sells a ring that gives you life energy. I doubt it will come cheap, but I am sure it will be useful, because you no longer need to rest or eat to recover. If you visit San, be sure to show her the red ring.”
“Back streets, just past the Order of the Holy Seal.”
I walked with her in that direction, but then we parted ways when I continued on to the Backstreets. I really needed a night’s rest now.
* * *
I saw Scarlett again the next day. She was exchanging goods with Ruben. I walked over and saw that she was selling odds and ends, and I could not help remark, "So you found out who pays the best price for old household clutter?"
"Don't say that!", Ruben complained, "I know people who pay a very good price for antiques and jewelry. So naturally I offer a good price, too."
Scarlett added, "Yes, I heard. I also met Joanna over there," she pointed over her shoulder, "and sold those Delver skins. Most amazing is that she was able to teach me how to mix portions. I had some Dusk Whin I took from a Rogue yesterday, and she showed me how to make a Health Potion."
"You seem to be selling a lot. All of this from the Rogues?"
Scarlett seemed to blush and stammered, "no... not all of it... some of it is... is.. a reward. Yes, a reward. For removing the Lectors from people's basements."
"I had an interesting morning. I was looking for Nox, and I was told he had gone to that old Temple. He was there, all right. He was recanting spells from an old book. I think he was trying to destroy the magical statue in there, but he attracted Lectors. Before he could completely finish, he had to run away from the Lectors and accidentally locked me in. I had to fight the Lectors myself.
"Anyway, something strange happened. It has happened to me before." She lowered her voice to a whisper, "Remember what happened in the copper mine? I learned how to enter the Twilight World at will. I never told you -- there was a similar statue there. They link us to the world of the dead. Here, I learned to see deceased people. I know this sounds like madness, but I saw Don and Nesto, and they helped me open the locked gate."
I had to admit, it sounded quite crazy, but by now I had seen many stranger things, including the Moonblade. I nodded for her to continue.
"So now they help me open locks. This is how I got into the houses with the Lectors."
"Oh, good. I am glad that people rewarded you for your efforts. I would hate for the citizens to catch you stealing -- Thieves are not highly regarded, you know."
That hesitation again, "Well... yes... yes, I know... I wouldn't."
I decided not to press the matter any further. If she got caught stealing, she'd know the price soon enough. However, since we began with her request to teach her strategy, I wanted to know where she was at this point.
"I think I made some progress, but I am still far from my goal. I do not know who my real enemy is, although I suspect that it is the Doge. I know he is looking for a book, a very special book, and that this book needs to be destroyed before it falls into the Doge's hands. The book was last known to be in the hands of somebody called Sophistos, and I need to find Sophistos. Nox can help me, but he won't, at least not until I have been accepted into one of the Guilds." She made a face, "just as you said, of course.
"I also found the Nightwatch, and he needs me to reclaim his Nightwatch badge from a monstrous bat in exchange for the Inner City key. Turns out that the bat stays out of reach, and that even my ravens won't touch it. Maybe Nox has an idea"
"You seem to be getting along much better on your own. You must have gained a lot of experience?"
"Yes, I did. I gained considerable experience during the Tavern assaults and in the Water Gateway. When I faced the Mistress, I was at Level 9. With the Rogues last night, the Lectors, freeing Lorn and you, and finding the Statue in the Temple, I am now at Level 12. I have room for learning more skills, even though I met Rangar this morning and had him teach me blocking skills."
"And, did you take a close look at the three Guilds?"
"Yes, I did. The Hooded Wings seem really eager to induce me. Rangar didn't seem to care much, but he made it clear that for him only two things count -- anger and success. I am still appalled by Yngvar's fate, though. Aeris told me about the Net of the Mask. Or rather, she did not tell me anything, really, and I am not sure about the Net. So what do you think?"
"You want my honest opinion?"
"Yes, that's why I keep asking you."
"Join the Net of the Mask. They are good people. The Hooded Wings are crooks, really, and they don't have much to offer except murky errands to run. The Order of the Holy Seal is an ancient order of warriors. If you value fighting skills above all else, join them. But the Net of the Mask -- " I lowered my voice, "they are knowledgeable in necromancy. They can teach you more than fighting skills. They know the old books, the history. And who knows, maybe they even have a magical item or two for you?"
I know I had a weakness for the Net, but I was truly convinced that it was for Scarlett's best. Scarlett seemed to lean in that direction, too, and with a curt "Goodbye" she moved off to the Backstreets.
I caught a glimpse of her some time later, wearing the Net of the Mask guild badge. Good for her.
* * *
Continued in Part 4 -- The Persian Occupation